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We all love a deal—but what's the proper etiquette for price negotiation? As a brand consultant for the online estate sales site Everything But the House, with 20+ years of experience hunting for vintage finds at flea markets around the world, I've haggled my way to countless antiques. Getting the best price for a piece that you can't live without is part of the fun of thrifting, but it can be hard to know how to do it effectively and respectfully.
To make the art of haggling a little bit less intimidating, here are my best tips for negotiating your way to the right price on an antique.
First and foremost, be prepared!
Before you even think about making a deal—or heading out, for that matter—do your homework.
- Are there certain pieces that you're looking for? For instance, if you're set on a vintage task lamp or a piece of mid-century pottery, do a little research on pricing, makes, and models, and even hard to find versions (if you spot something rare, you want to pounce on it!).
- What vendors are there? Vendor lists exist for more established markets, so look ahead of time at who is selling what—and you might be able to find past examples of sales prices.
- Bring a friend or four! Your ability to negotiate increases with the amount you are buying so the more the merrier.
- For goodness sake, bring CASH—and of all denominations! You can’t haggle over a $60 price tag to bring it down to $45 and then hand over $60 in cash!
Ready, set, go!
- Have a game plan. The good (and well-priced stuff) goes fast, so you'll want to visit your favorite vendors first. If you're more interested in browsing and less intent on specific purchases, then you can take advantage of getting some better pricing on the stuff that doesn’t go quickly.
- Have your smart phone ready. You can google anything that you need to quickly learn more about.
- For some of the larger, more established markets (think Brimfield and Roundtop), you can quickly visit your top dealers and have them write up invoices to hold items (with rough pricing). Then, you can return later to finalize the actual bill. This allows you to negotiate when you are not as rushed. Also, this may allow for some pricing discounts if you are doing any bulk buying.
The Art of the Negotiation
The majority of vintage dealers love the products they're selling. They are knowledgeable and experienced. If something has a dent or piece missing, they have already factored this into their price. So before you begin negotiating, remember all of this, and be respectful.
Asking for a lower price while pointing out damage is not a good strategy. Rather, start with asking: “Is this your best price?” Or, “I really love this piece, but I can’t possibly spend more than $75.” Sincerity about your ability to pay or authentic praise for the merchandise is the best starting place. I’ve encountered many reluctant shopkeepers that were resistant to sell until they felt I truly understood the piece and its value.
Be reasonable with your requests. At reputable markets, prices tend to be realistic. Most dealers are willing to cut up to 20%, but don’t start at a fraction of the price and think you will meet in the middle. (This is more insulting than it is effective.) If you truly know something well, and know that it is overpriced, present your data. Or, use it as a learning experience. If you are just starting to collect something, or are looking for a particular piece, ask the vendor what you should be expecting to pay.
Think about combining your purchases. If there are several things that you want to leave with, think about working with a more general vendor where you can leave with books, décor, and a side table. You will always be able to negotiate better pricing when you are buying in bulk—and the same goes for pieces of higher value.
Be willing to walk away. If you have stated your final price, and the dealer will not meet it, you have to leave it. There is always a chance that it will be there later and you can return and snatch it up! And there have been plenty of times that I’ve been called back when I turned to walk out.
I’ve focused on in-person dealer negotiations—but remember that much of this applies to online dealers, too. You can always email and ask if there is a better price available.
Andrea Stanford is the brand consultant for online estate sale site Everything But the House, formerly of C California Style magazine and One Kings Lane. She's a lifelong antiques and vintage hunter.